Toby Keith is looking for a showdown. Last night, Keith threw a party at I Love This Bar, his night club at Harrah's in Las Vegas. I was chatting with Keith and innocently asked him if he would come back to the press room tonight after his performance on the Academy of Country Music Awards. He asks me if I think Peter Cooper, the music writer for The Tennessean, Nashville's daily paper, will be there. I say I hope so. I've always found Cooper to be a good and smart reporter.
Keith launches into how he hopes Cooper is there because he's seriously pissed at what Cooper wrote about the country superstar here. In a nutshell, Ethan Hawke wrote a long piece in Rolling Stone about legendary songwriter/actor/Rhodes Scholar Kris Kristofferson and how amazing he is. No dispute there. Hawke then recounts an incident at Willie Nelson's birthday party/concert at Madison Square Garden in 2003 that details Kristofferson's slap down of an unnamed country star, who tells Kristofferson not to play his "lefty" stuff. According to Hawke, Kristofferson, who was in the Army, really calls out the singer for, insubordination, to keep it in military terms, and slays him in front of folks like Ray Charles and Norah Jones.
The only clue Hawke gives is that the singer has a hit out about bombing America's enemies at the time. Cooper praises the piece and says he's not going to disclose the country singer either, but says it "rhymes with Moby Teeth."
Well, Keith told us such an exchange did not happen as Hawke recounts it and that his publicist is dealing with Rolling Stone to see what kind of fact checking they did. He went on to talk about how he and Nelson are closer than close (clearly true from "Beer for My Horses," etc.), he and Kristofferson get along great and then, he also talked about how Roger Miller's widow has praised his songwriting chops and Shooting Jennings has said that before his dad, Waylon, passed, he felt Keith was one of the best contemporary songwriters. In other words, he was saying that he has received a benediction of sorts as a follower in the tradition of these outlaw songwriters, which, is undoubtedly true. Keith is a bit of a Nashville outsider.It was very loud in the room and I'm not sure what exactly did go down at the Nelson concert, but Keith is adamant it was not what was reported by Hawke.
I'd met Keith a few times before, even moderated a panel with him on it, and, although always cordial, he has never talked to me for more than a few minutes. He went on for at least 10 minutes about this until someone interrupted us after trying to get his attention for quite some time. Keith says Cooper didn't call any of Keith's reps to fact check or get the details right. Our conversation ended when I said, "Basically, you're mad because the Hawke piece makes it look like you're a pussy." Keith, who was a semi-pro football player, has shown he's not the type to back down. Witness Keith in action at a recent concert after he says a fan threw a beer on stage and tossed him the bird. But at least he apologizes afterward.
All I'm saying is while there will undoubtedly be some good action up on stage that y'all see on TV, I'm thinking the real show tonight is going to be in the press room. I'm getting there early to sit as close to Cooper as I can. I've emailed Cooper for comment, but haven't heard back.
See you back here at 8 p.m. Eastern/5 p.m. Pacific. I'll be blogging live.
UPDATE: We're in the press room at the ACMs with Peter Cooper, who's been dealing with this all day. This is his response:
Kris Kristofferson sent me an email that he has sent to Rolling Stone that says that he has no recollection of an altercation with Toby. And Toby says no altercation took place. Thus, I now believe the Rolling Stone piece to be in error. I have sought out a comment from Toby, and am hoping to get one.
My original piece in The Tennessean's celebrity column was meant to tell people that this article was out, and to have fun with a situation in which Hawke named an "unnamed country star" who could only have been Toby, given the description.
I regret writing about the Rolling Stone piece, as neither Kris nor Toby thinks the Hawke piece was accurate. Kris praised Toby in an email, which will be reprinted in its entirety in Monday's Tennessean.